Disney flexes it’s Marvel and animation muscles to create a comic book movie that’s really targeted toward kids. Normally, I give kids movies a pass for being kids movies but, for some reason, this one didn’t sit as well with me.
Hiro is a teenage genius living in the city of San Fransokyo. Both of his parents are dead and he lives with his brother, Tadashi and aunt, Cass. He spends his time hustling in illegal robot fights and tinkering with his fighting robot. In an attempt to steer him in the right direction, Tadashi introduces Hiro to his classmates at the San Fransokyo Institute of Technology (SFIT). The other classmates are all gifted scientists: Go Go, Wasabi, and Honey Lemon. Then there’s Fred, who’s their school mascot / sign spinner and resident dreamer. Tadashi also shows Hiro his prized project: Baymax. Baymax is basically a big fluffy robotic nurse. Hiro is inspired by the “nerd school”, and works on a project to gain entry to the institute.
Hiro develops a horde of microbots that can be controlled with the mind through the use of a headband. However, the expo is set on fire and the head of the institute, Robert Callaghan, is caught in the fire. While mourning their losses, Hiro is consoled by Baymax, who keeps trying to find ways to fix Hiro. Hiro realizes that the fire was likely caused to steal his microbots and sets out to get revenge on the person who caused it. He discovers that a man in a Kabuki mask has stolen the microbots. In order to stop the masked man, Hiro retrofits Baymax with combat ability and armor. The other scientists end up getting caught up in the fight when they happen upon Hiro while he’s running from the villain. In order to stop the masked man, Hiro equips them all with super hero tech to augment their own scientific specialties. Together, they end up confronting the masked man, who’s plan threatens to destroy a big part of the city and kill a lot of people.
By the time you get to Big Hero 6 you’re probably already aware that the movie is based on a Marvel comic book franchise. You also had already figured out that this movie would not really resemble that property outside of the character names. The comic book version of Big Hero 6 is more like Marvel’s version of the Suicide Squad. It’s not necessarily a team of villains, but the team members definitely aren’t all lawful good. The movie paints the group as a plucky group of college-aged scientists who are united by rallying around a tragic event. They become an unlikely band of super heroes that look like they were conceived by the same machine that ingests Japanese cartoon archetypes and vomits out their American analogs.
The comic-to-movie character conversion is text book “let’s not offend anyone” construction of a team. The original constitution of the Big Hero 6 was a Japanese government founded organization of super powered or special individuals. The original team members included a felon and a mercenary as well as a boy genius. In the movie adaptation the team is located in the fictional hybrid city of San Fransokyo (San Fransisco and Tokyo), which is basically San Fransisco with some Asian flare. Instead of being gathered by the government, the group is introduced as gifted science students at SFIT who each have their own interests.
Another key change is that the group’s membership is no longer comprised of Japanese characters. Instead, the movie takes a more multi-ethnic take with Wasabi being a black character and Honey Lemon and Jeff being American, while Hiro and Go Go remain as Asian characters. At least, I think they are. The character designs and change of venue made it kind of hard for me to tell if Hiro and his brother, Tadashi are actually supposed to be Asian. Their aunt, Cass (played by Maya Rudolph), seems to be Caucasian American; which doesn’t help if you’re trying to figure things out. Ultimately, the races aren’t of the characters aren’t that important to me. I just felt it was worth noting that it was a clear conscious choice to adjust for the movie’s demographics. Another change that probably came for the same reason is the appearance of Honey Lemon who’s shed her sexier comic book persona for a more geek-chic look.
All of that is fine because, as I said, it’s a kids movie and that’s what I’d expect from a modern kids movie. You have to have all races represented and try to make everyone as equal as possible so that you don’t dare offend any one and risk jeopardizing your merchandise sales. Do I like it? No. But I absolutely expect it to happen. What I didn’t expect was for the plot of the movie to be a story of greed, murder and revenge. Disney (and Disney Pixar) movies do occasionally delve into darker topic areas, including death. However, it’s usually imminent or accidental death from an accident, sickness or age. This movie actually hinges one of it’s characters murdered. On top of that, it’s main character is out for revenge and, at one point actually tries to murder the villain. That level of intensity didn’t seem to really fit the child-friendly framework that the movie was shooting for.
I think that ill-fitting combination is what bothered me about this movie. I can accept a kid-friendly comic book movie and I can accept a comic book movie based on death and vengeance, but mixing them both together feels like it’s mixing two things together that shouldn’t be mixed. It makes the movie feel both too mature and immature all at the same time. I would’ve preferred that they at least create a different origin story for the movie. What I really would’ve wanted to see is a more mature version of this movie but, I get that the market is already saturated with mature comic book movies. All that being said, it wouldn’t surprise me if all of this goes way over the head of any kids who watch this kind of movie. It’s easy to forget how much you don’t see about a movie when you’re younger.
Despite the confusing tone, Big Hero 6 is still a fun movie. The entire cast is funny and has their moments to shine. I think everyone gets at least one good line delivery in the film. Baymax is obviously the film’s featured character, getting a lot of the funnier and cuter moments. For me, Fred and Wasabi (played by T.J. Miller and Damon Wayans Jr.) are the funnier parts of the movie and probably the more surprising given that we don’t really get too much information about their characters. Actually, we don’t get too much information about any characters outside of Baymax, Hiro and his family. The other Heroes are really just accompaniment in the movie, which works out well…most of the time. The only time that I was bothered by them was during the big action scene where each one of them regurgitated one of the few lines they’d had during the movie as if it was a catchphrase. It took everything in me not to groan out loud in the theater during that moment but I’m sure that somewhere, toys spouting those same phrases will appear in the hands of very excited children.
Really, I expect nothing less from a Disney animated film. I keep reading back over what I’m writing and I know it sounds like I didn’t like this movie. I really did, like the way it was executed. I just didn’t love some parts of the concept. I don’t think this will stand up as a ground breaking Disney movie, but it ends up having all of the charm and humor that you’d expect from the studio. There’s also a couple of scenes that look amazing. I won’t give anything away but there’s a scene where Baymax and Hiro end up in a kind of void that looks spectacular. The other great moment in the film is the appearance of an animated Stan Lee as Fred’s dad. He also appears in the after-credits scene. I guess that is one of the problems with going to see a movie like this. I take for granted that so many things will go right, that when something isn’t great, it seems to take up most of my focus.
Big Hero 6
- Kid friendly story line that's easy to follow
- Colorfull group of characters
- Lots of shout-outs to Turtles fans
- Stays lighthearted and fun throughout
- Felt like a very dark storyline for a kids movie
- Lack of development of characters that aren't Hiro or Baymax
- Heavily deviates from source material (only a con if you care about that)
- Movie seems to be unapoligetically made for merchandising